Saturday, August 29, 2009

An Ecumenical Quaker Draws the Line

Can’t say I’m not open.
I meditate with Mennonites,
chant with Catholics,
and belt out Baptist blues with the best of them.
I danced at my daughter’s wedding to a Nazarene,
and once I even rolled the aisle with a Pentecostal.
But with funerals I reach my limit.
When my time comes
I will insist on my own homespun,
tried and true Quaker version.
I just wouldn’t feel dead
without it.

(From The Secret Colors of God: Poems by Nancy Thomas, 2005, The Barclay Press)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Hospitality: The Virtue of Paying Attention

After two weeks in Costa Rica, we are now in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, staying in the home of Friends pastors, David and Arminda Tintaya. As was the case in San Jose, we have been enveloped in a cape of hospitality. We arrived here at midnight, but no matter. Before retiring to our rooms, we had tea with the Tintayas, taking time to catch up since our last visit. And in the few days we’ve been here, we have been hosted and celebrated every day. Each meeting is accompanied by tea and pastries, by laughter and conversation. The focus is on the event and the relationships, not on the schedule. It feels good to be back.

I’m recognizing again that hospitality is part of the spirituality of Latin America. Meeting together around a meal, taking the time to nurture relationships, acknowledging the other—these are values that are core to the very identity of people on this continent.

While in Costa Rica, much of my time and energy was given to the class I taught on “Culture, Spirituality and Mission.” I’ve had a love/hate relationship with teaching all my life, partly due to my own introversion. I guess I’m sort of like the little girl in the nursery rhyme who, “when she was good, she was very very good, but when she was bad, she was horrid.” (I even have the same curly hair!) I seem to have either very good or horrid teaching experiences.

This time in San Jose, thanks be to God (and to my praying partners), the class was very good, and I’ve gained new insight. I’m seeing a relationship between hospitality and teaching. The teacher is, in a sense, a host who, like a chef, prepares food that both nurtures and delights. And there is joy in the serving, especially when the host/teacher serves something she herself loves. I’m reminded of Quaker educator Parker Palmer’s model of both teacher and students gathered in a circle around a great theme. In this model the teacher is a learner along with her students, sharing her love of the subject and facilitating as the group learns to gaze at the mystery, “the secret that sits in the center.” This sharing and facilitating are basically acts of hospitality, part of the spirituality of teaching.

I think also of Brazilian educator Paulo Freire and his participatory model of education where students are respected for what they bring to the class and encouraged to be active participants in the “construction of knowledge.” This makes the teaching/learning situation one of mutual hospitality, and this dynamic facilitates discovery, application and, hopefully, transformation.

On the airplane between San Jose and Santa Cruz (Saint Joseph and Holy Cross), I was reading a book of essays by Ricardo Barbosa (Conversas no caminho,2008), perhaps the key writer of contemporary Protestant spirituality in Brazil. In an essay simply titled, “Attention,” he makes the statement that “Hospitality is the virtue of paying attention to others. It is the way in which we gather in, listen, touch and create the necessary space for the other to feel loved, protected and accepted.” This is more than serving good food or a stimulating lesson. This integrates hospitality and spirituality and becomes ministry that transforms. Lessons from Latin America.

This is rich food, indeed.

PRODOLA students and teachers, San Jose, August 2009

Monday, August 10, 2009

Costa Rican Travelogue

One of the best things about our current ministry in PRODOLA ( is getting to know other places and people. This is our third trip to San Jose, and we’ve been here over a week now. Hal team-taught the course on research design last weekend, and I gave my intensive seminar on “Culture, Spirituality and Mission” last week.

This is a beautiful place.

We are housed at the Nazarene Theological Seminary of the Americas (SENDAS) in the center of San Jose.

We live here, have our meals, and hold our classes and other meetings on the large campus.

The bird-of-paradise plant outside our room….

This strange fruit is called mamón chino, but we’ve dubbed it porcupine fruit. The meat is slimy to the touch but has a mild, sweet taste. (This is especially for my grandson, Reilly, who at six years old doesn’t like weird food. What a challenge this would be!)

San Jose, capital of Costa Rica, city of 1,350,000 people….

Students and faculty took Saturday off to go to the Pacific coast. As in Oregon, the mountains come down to the shore, but the trees here are tropical…

with monkeys playing in the branches…

and pelicans instead of sea gulls swooping overhead. What a beautiful world.

We have another week here in San José before we head down to Bolivia. This week I get to interview students and write their stories, one of the favorite parts of my job. Thanks be to God. Mil gracias.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Quote: Robert Frost

The Secret

We dance around in a ring and suppose,
But the secret sits in the middle and knows.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Ignatius of Loyola and George Fox: Companions on the Way

Two days ago we flew from Portland, Oregon to San José, Costa Rica, getting up at 4:30 am and at 9:00 pm finally checking into our room here on the campus of the Nazarene Theological Seminary. On the plane I read the autobiography of Ignatius of Loyola and was both surprised and delighted. Something that especially struck me was the parallel experiences of Ignatius and George Fox, founder of the Quaker faith community some 100 years later.

Ignatius was born into a well-to-do family in northern Spain at the end of the 15th century. At one point in his young adulthood, he found himself in a time of great spiritual restlessness. He records this prayer in his journal: “Help me, Lord, for I find no remedy among men, nor in any creature. No task would be too irksome for me if I thought I could get help. Lord, show me where I may get it, and even if I have to follow after a little puppy to get the remedy I need, I will do it.”

The translator’s footnote explains that “During his months in Manresa, Ignatius sought spiritual guidance from many individuals but found none to offer him what he needed. Having gone through months of darkness of soul, he finally learned that his teacher in all this was our Lord Himself” (J. N. Tylenda). I wrote “George Fox” in the margin of the book.

The experience of finding Jesus as his teacher and guide changed his life, and soon he had gathered a following as he went from place to place, preaching and teaching. Among the responses Ignatius made to the excesses of his social context were a refusal to take off his hat or give deference to people of the upper classes and his insistence on using the familiar “tú” (thou) instead of the formal “usted” (you) with all people, regardless of social rank. Another “George Fox” scrawl in the margin.

Of course, the two stories differ in many details, but I can´t help but reflect that when the Spirit of God touches a hungry seeker, the things that divide us—race, history, culture, time—take second place to the common experience of becoming the people of God.

This next week in my class on “Culture, Spirituality and Mission” here in Costa Rica, one thing we will consider is the relevance of the Spanish mystics for contemporary Protestant Latin Americans. We will especially look at Ignatius, at Teresa of Avila with her raptures and meticulous metaphors of prayer, and at that strange dark man, John of the Cross. Will the experiences and insights of these singular saints of old bridge the gaps of time and culture? It will be fun finding out.